Author: Provost Robert Groves

Formation in the 21st Century

A couple of years ago I wrote a post that reflected on many conversations with alumni, as well as parents and potential employers of Georgetown students. The gist of the message was their call for Georgetown to continue to produce values-centered, broadly-educated, creative, articulate graduates, but also expose them to skills that equip them well for 21st century leadership.

Since that time, through the work of many faculty and students, especially those taking advantage of the Designing the Future(s) initiative at the Red House incubator, we’ve made progress. Focus groups and design studios were held around the country with young alumni, who provided ideas about what experiences would have been helpful to them while studying at Georgetown. They assessed their courses at Georgetown with different eyes, enriched by their work-life events post-graduation. They expressed their own desires for a continuation of their Georgetown education. In a sense, they were thirsting to revisit aspects of the core liberal education curriculum, perhaps a little wiser about its value to them.

We also analyzed the lifecycle of undergraduates at Georgetown. We discovered that many were accumulating credits over their years that permitted them to graduate at the normal end of their eighth semester, but take a smaller than full course load in their last semester. In focus group discussions with them, some expressed the desire for learning that would be a useful bridge from the courses in their major and associated electives, on one hand, and their career/professional aspirations, on the other. More food for thought.

Conversations with faculty members and curricular designers followed. Gradually the idea of attempting to serve both seniors and young alumni emerged – the “Bridge Courses” were conceptualized.

The first editions of Bridge Courses are being offered this semester. They are all 1-credit courses. They are a mix of offerings – some permit the acquisition of skills valued in the 21st Century workplace; others are structured reflection on key choices that unlock lasting meaning in one’s life.

To get a sense of the latter set—known as Revisiting the Core courses—there is a course that examines how one can discern one’s authentic self, in the context of social norms that influence other outcomes. There is a course addressing how to maintain one’s identity and values in a world of rapidly changing features, where social relations are constantly impinging on traditional ways of doing things.

Regarding more concrete work-related skills, there are courses on techniques of negotiation, data visualization, story-telling, and one for those seniors trying to identify an ideal career in synthesis with their full curricular experiences at Georgetown.

An email announcement was distributed to all seniors about the courses. In a matter of hours most of the courses were filled. Several have waiting lists. So the planners may have hit upon a real need.

In some sense this is a launch phase, but it could not have taken place without some administrative changes to permit courses spanning all schools and a lot of work by faculty and staff. This semester, most of the attention has been placed on graduating seniors. Our next step is to build out the young alumni piece, piloting a whole range of new ways to sustain Georgetown’s ongoing formational relationship with alumni five years or fewer out. We also hope that the Bridge Course platform will provide a novel new context to help 8th-semester seniors network with recent graduates.

This semester marks very visible progress on the goal of a fuller preparation of our graduates for effective and fulfilling lives in the modern world. Kudos to all those who worked so diligently to achieve this step!

This post was originally published on the Provost’s blog on January 18, 2017. 

Pedagogical Innovation Made Real

One of the hopes of the Designing the Future(s) Initiative was that the program might liberate faculty to mount courses in ways that made great pedagogical sense but did not fit the usual mold of a 3-credit, 15 week class, centered in a single school within Georgetown.

The Red House on 37th Street is used as the incubator for the ideas, and design assistants help to shape the ideas of the faculty into rigorous new practices. Since some of the courses truly span all schools, we needed to create new faculty academic review procedures to make sure perspectives from multiple schools were used in initial evaluation. Overall, we want to balance the need to get creative experiments into the system with an inclusive and deliberative process. The initial successes show how important wide faculty consultation assists experiments meant to flex our own model.

There are themes emerging in this work: enriching face-to-face interactions between students and faculty, maximizing experiential and research-based learning, combining theory and practice, fostering support for team-teaching and interdisciplinary collaboration.

All the work is now bearing fruit that offer new learning experiences for Georgetown students in the near term.

One example is a course that involves faculty from multiple departments on the main campus and multiple groups of the Medical Center. The course needs an interdisciplinary approach because multiple fields have contributed to the knowledge now viewed as key to understanding. The field in question is childhood, specifically children’s physical health, and cognitive, emotional, and behavioral development. These topics are covered with a keen interest in the interplay between these attributes of children and the social contexts in which they live, learn, and play. This is one example of scores of issues which have been studied from many different perspectives, each in itself focusing only on a part of the issues.

The design exposes undergraduate students across the university to this issues from multiple points of view–in both classroom and community (forcing students outside their comfort zone). The design lies outside the one-size fits all 15 week 3-credit course but retains a commitment to coherence and connection among the parts. It uses a set of 1-credit modules to give students flexibility in putting together an experience that links theory with practice with policy formation challenges.

A group of five faculty members coordinated the content of four one-credit modules. The first, “Principles of Challenges in Childhood and Society,” is required of all students. Those who desire only an introduction can take only that module. However, those who want a deeper exploration of the topic have three other modules (1-credit each) from which to choose. They are offered as four-week bundles, with 3-hour meeting blocks in each week. Some are mixes of multimedia-based learning and face-to-face interaction. One is a community-based learning module, with field placements in social service agencies, schools, and community-based organizations. Another is centered around a “hot topic” in the news related to children (e.g., cyber-bullying, school shootings), where students examine the existing research literature and attempt to apply theories to real events. Another is centered around policy issues, where students are asked to reflect on the real-world experiences they had in field placements or the Challenges course to prepare Congressional-style testimony or suggest a new set of policies improving child welfare.

Experiential learning, quick application of existing literatures to new events, exposure to multiple fields’ thinking on the same topic, theory and practice – all guided by talented, passionate faculty. This new structure and others like it hold great promise for Georgetown students. I am pleased to see it being offered next semester.

This post originally appeared on the Provost’s blog. To read more about the Challenges in Childhood and Society courses, please click here.


For over 100 years, the common unit of teaching and learning in a university has been the course. The 3-credit course is common, often lasting about 15 weeks. Universities typically require a certain number of credits/courses for a diploma in a program. Thus, it is a basic metric that garners the attention of students.

In parallel, the course is often the basic counting unit for the faculty workload. Faculty across universities ask each other what their teaching load is at their university. They’ll answer, “I’m on a 2-2;” “I’m on a 2-1.” This means “I teach two courses each semester;” “I teach two courses one semester and one the other semester.”

I can imagine there was a time in some universities that this metric was a useful description of the work of different faculty. Of course, it omits any commentary on the amount of faculty time on committee work for their units, on professional service to their professional organizations; on research; on mentoring and tutoring undergraduate students; on graduate student interaction; and on service on university committees.

Further, the course-based metric fails to recognize the large variation in amount of time spent teaching different courses (e.g., a class of four students versus a similar class of 40 students). It ignores the fact that teaching a course for the third time requires less effort than the first time. It ignores the fact that classes with teaching assistants have different time requirements than courses without teaching assistants.

It also is out of alignment with the merit review systems in place in most units, which evaluate faculty on teaching, research, and service.

It’s interesting to me to note that some Georgetown departments and schools have recognized the inadequacy of workloads defined only on a course basis. Some have invented counting rules reflecting that the variable amount of faculty time required of different courses. Others formally try to value the time spent in oversight of graduate students or project-based work of undergraduates. Such innovation, however, is not uniform across the Main Campus of Georgetown. Hence, the meaning of “I’m on a 2-2,” for example, is quite diverse among and within departments and units.

Finally, as we look toward the future, more and more faculty are interested in new course arrangements, ones that adjust the amount and character of “class” time to the nature of the material being presented (e.g., intensive two-week courses; year-long, project-based learning). For example, many of the faculty working on the Designing the Future(s) initiative are creating learning experiences that are far different from the traditional 15-week, 3-credit course.

For all the reasons above, it seems to be a good time to think carefully about whether Georgetown could create ways of measuring faculty workloads that more equitably and fully reflect the range of activities that faculty pursue in support of the mission of the university. Since the most precious commodity of faculty is their time, new counting rules based on their time allocation might be a starting point.

Over the coming days, I’d be interested in thoughts of faculty on these matters.

This piece first appeared on the Provost’s blog.